*Few cars have polarized people as strongly as the E65 7 Series, the first version of BMW's outgoing, current-generation flagship sedan. Criticism ranged from "Dear God, what is that thing?" to "Chris Bangle, I'm going to kill you."
Criticism is always subjective, and car geeks are always more than willing to let it fly. Approaching the situation objectively, the E65 had two things going against it. First, like the radical Z4 roadster that preceded it, chief designer Bangle sought to use the 7 Series to alter the safe and staid course of BMW design language. Not necessarily an ignoble aspiration.
The E65 also had the thankless task of being the testbed for the iDrive multimedia consolidation system, which was almost universally reviled in the automotive press.
In spite of its detractors, the E65 and subsequent iterations went on to become history's best-selling 7 Series, and iDrive went on to inspire similar multimedia systems in cars built by all of BMW's major competitors.
For 2009, the 7 Series is now in its fifth generation (coded F01/F02) and has been once again designed and engineered from the ground up. It will initially come in three flavors: 730d, with a new six-cylinder diesel engine; 740i, with a twin-turbocharged straight-six petrol engine; and 750i, with the brand-new, twin-turbo petrol V8 first introduced in the X6 Sport Activity Vehicle. Both gas-burners are also offered in a long-wheelbase version designated with the familiar "L" (740Li, 750Li).
For now, the U.S. market will only receive the top-tier 750. Its turbo V8 is touted as having "V12-like" power and torque delivery, while displacing just 4.4 liters. This claim isn't so fantastic; in fact, the new V8 actually puts down more torque than the current-gen 760Li's V12, although it produces less peak horsepower. This engine is the first of its kind to incorporate dual turbos inside the cylinder bank vee and uses BMW High Precision Injection to help turn its impressive output. At the same time, BMW touts the unit's high efficiency and compliance with the forthcoming EU 5 emissions standard, consuming 11.4 liters of fuel per 100 km traveled, or the equivalent of about 24.8 mpg. This equates to an improvement of 3 percent compared to the previous V8, while output has been increased by some 40 hp.
Another key feature is the Driving Dynamic Control system activated by a switch next to the shift lever. This allows the driver to choose from four pre-programmed setups-Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+. These adjust a wide range of vehicle systems, including damper settings, DSC stability control thresholds, transmission shift points, and throttle and steering assistance control maps. Such a wide range of adjustability has been criticized on vehicles like the new M series cars, the M5 and new M3 in particular, but seems to make sense in this context, where a balls-out sporting drive might not always be the absolute objective. Sport and Sport+ serve to effectively shrink the big sedan and cause it to behave as a smaller vehicle might. This duality of nature makes the 7 Series special in the full-size luxury segment.
The new 7's remarkable agility can also be enhanced with a new optional feature called Integral Active Steering, which varies the steering angle on the rear wheels by way of a concentrically positioned motor on the rear axle, up to 3 percent either direction. At low speeds this function turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction as the fronts, to make the car more agile in, say, a crowded parking lot. At higher speeds the rear wheels turn in the same direction to enhance lateral acceleration with minimal impact on the vehicle's yaw rate, which, notably, improves passenger comfort in the rear seats. This car is, after all, used as a limousine.
Possibly even more significant than the previously mentioned technologies, at least to those who still haven't learned how to use it, is a thoroughly reworked iDrive. It still relies on a central rotary controller to navigate the various menus, but now features a cluster of "direct select" buttons surrounding it that allow users to jump directly to the various menus from whatever they've got currently selected (radio, CD, telephone, navigation). There's also a "back" button that cancels the current step and returns the user instantly to whatever was previously selected, just like on your internet browser.
The new iDrive also benefits from a large-format graphic display (1280x480 resolution) with a variable layout, including preview maps and full-screen presentation. And its functionality is now further enhanced with the row of eight "favorites" buttons located on the center dash, which can not only store specific radio stations, telephone numbers and navigation destinations, but also specific menu items obtained through iDrive. For example, the driver can now instantly present the nav map in its preferred scale, get traffic reports, activate the audio balance control, or jump to a pre-selected chapter in the vehicle owner's manual, which is now also integrated into the 7's on-board hard drive. Climate controls have been moved out of iDrive and placed in the dash beneath the favorites buttons for instant access should all this excitement begin to make you moist.
Befitting its stature, the new 7 Series also features a list of optional technical doo-dads like BMW Night Vision, which is programmed to detect and display individual persons using a thermal-imaging camera that displays objects present outside of the headlight beams in real time, as well as providing the driver warning if those persons are at risk.
Lane Departure Warning and Lane Change Warning are also now available for the first time in a BMW, the latter using radar sensors located at the rear of the car to monitor traffic in adjacent lanes. A triangular LED array embedded at the bottom of the side mirrors will illuminate if there happens to be another vehicle in the way. If the driver switches on the indicator to commence changing lanes, the LED will flash rapidly if an imminent collision is detected. Lane Departure relies on a camera embedded in the windshield near the rearview mirror and actively monitors lane markings, warning the driver when the vehicle's tires kiss said markings by sending a mild vibration through the steering wheel.
One option we won't get, but available in Europe, is the 7's ability to read road signs and alert the driver when he or she exceeds the posted speed limit, indicating a possible impending citation via the optional Head-Up Display. Americans can opt for the Head-Up, which projects driving information like vehicle speed and navigation data on the windshield just above the driver-side dashboard.
Thoroughly refined, and easy on the eyes to boot, it's speculated the new 7 Series will not set you back much more than the current generation. A 2008 750i currently runs you $76,800, the long-wheelbase version about $3,000 more.
2009 BMW 750i
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.4-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve, turbocharged,intercooled
F: Double track control arm strut axle with separate lower track level, anti-dive
R: Integral V-multi-arm axle with steering function, anti-squat, anti-dive
Single-piston swing-calipers, ventilated rotors
Length/Width/Height (in.): 199.7/84.0/58.2
Wheelbase: 120.9 in.
Curb Weight: 4,288 lb
Peak Power: 402 hp @ 5500 rpm
Peak Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm
0-62 mph: 5.2 sec.vTop Speed: 155 mph (limited)
2009 BMW 750Li
Length: 205.2 in.
Wheelbase: 126.4 in.
Curb Weight: 4,365 lb
0-62 mph: 5.3 sec.